A waffle iron is a specialized kitchen appliance consisting of two hot plates usually joined with a hinge. A special flour and egg batter is ladled onto the bottom plate and the top plate is closed over it. After several minutes of cooking, the result is a waffle -- a light breakfast food traditionally served with fruit toppings or maple syrup. Depending on the plates used in a waffle iron, the waffles may be square, round or triangular in shape. Some waffle batters contain additions such as chocolate chips, dried fruit pieces or nuts.
Early versions of the waffle iron can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Soldiers would mix a rough batter of barley and water and place it inside an iron griddle box with long handles. By holding this rudimentary waffle iron directly over a campfire, the soldier made a form of toasted cake. The traditional square pattern of a modern waffle was only one of several designs available in medieval times. Waffle irons featuring a family crest were also popular, along with thinner plates which provided a popular snack similar to the waffle cones of today.
Surprisingly, one of the most popular varieties of waffle today, the Belgian waffle, was not actually introduced until 1965. A deeper hot plate combination on a waffle iron is used to create the distinctive squares of a Belgian waffle, which also uses a different batter formula than traditional waffles. Additions such as fruit, flavored syrups and whipped cream are often used to decorate the sweeter and lighter Belgian waffle.
Because a waffle iron can be so specialized, many of us leave the cooking of fresh waffles up to professionals and purchase frozen varieties instead. But the taste and texture of a fresh waffle is difficult to recreate in a toaster. For the authentic experience of a hearty whole-wheat waffle or a light Belgian waffle with strawberries, the purchase of a home waffle iron may be a worthwhile investment. A modern waffle iron may also contain flat plates and a floating hinge for making pressed sandwiches called paninis.